Many frescoes at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv depict ancient Ukrainian musicians, but the story of music on the territory of Ukraine goes back to 20 thousand years ago, when the first music instruments were made of mammoth tusks as found by Kyiv archeologists near the historic city of Chernihiv.
Musicians that lived in the cities were always present at all the ceremonies, processions, and rituals. The folklore, dedicated to calendar celebrations (Christmas, Easter carols) and family rituals (wedding songs) originated in the IX-th century and up to now preserves many archaic features.
Already in XIV–XVII centuries our musicians became famous outside the ancient Ukrainian state. Their names could be found in the chronicles of those times, among the musicians at many royal courts, for instance, at the court of Polish kings.
At that time also arise historic songs and ballads – one of the most picturesque fragments of Ukrainian folk music, a kind of symbolic code of national history and culture. They were composed mostly by Cossacks and about Cossacks. The traveling singers, who were the authors of ballads and performers at the same time, were called kobzars.
This fruitful period in the history of Ukrainian culture was also under the influence of the so-called “Cossacks baroque”, which is the reason why to a great extent Ukrainian musical tradition is connected with the style of baroque. The most famous centers of music culture at that time were Glukhiv singing school and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Many famous Ukrainian musicians studied there in XVII-XVIII centuries: D.Bortnyansky, M.Berezovsky, A.Vedel that started an epoch in our choral music. Bortnyansky and Berezovsky also studied in Italy: Berezovsky attended Music Academy in Bologna, where he was a student of a famous music theorist Martini at the same time as Mozart, and was considered to be one of the most talented graduates of the academy. After having mastered the European composition technique, these Ukrainian composers chose not to copy Western patterns, but to create pieces, most of which are based on national melodic traditions. Spiritual music of D.Bortnyansky, M.Berezovsky and A.Vedel still can be heard in many Slavic churches around the world.
This was also the time of dynamic development of a capella choir music, the influence of which is strong even in the modern Ukrainian music, professional a capella чоловічий колектив „ Tercja Pikardyjska” from Lviv being one of its best-known representatives.
Professional musicians of the XIX-th century frequently made arrangements of folk songs performed by talented amateur singers accompanied by folk instruments – kobza, bandura, cymbals, violin, lyre etc. The influence of folk music is characteristic of Ukrainian operas of XIX-th century: „ Zaporozhian Cossack beyond the Danube” by Hulak-Artemovsky (first Ukrainian opera), “Taras Bulba”, “Natalka-Poltavka”, “Drowned” and “Christmas Night” by Mykola Lysenko, as well as of stylizations and adaptations of folk songs by M.Leontovych, O.Koshyts, M.Lysnko, K. Stetsenko. Ukrainian motifs can also be heard in pieces by L. Beethoven and F. List.
Many talented world –renowned performers of classical music come form Ukraine: virtuoso pianist V. Horovits, opera singers of the past (S. Krushelnytska) and of today (V.Lukianets, Volodymyr Gryshko, Valentyn Pyvovarov, Roman Mayboroda, Taras Shtonda, Mykhailo Didyk), famous conductor Roman Kofman, who in 2004 took the position of the chief conductor of Bonn Opera house and Beethoven symphonic orchestra .
The development of Ukrainian music in the XX-th century corresponded with general cultural and aesthetic tendencies in the world, in 1960-1980s it felt the influence of so-called “trends of the sixties”. It was a period of huge popularity of performers who sang their own songs, where the main accent was placed on the lyrics (O.Ivasiuk, T.Petrynenko, I.Bilozir). At the same time, many typically modern music and musical-poetical projects were started: first of all, V.Morozov’s satirical theater “Don’t Be Sad” (1970-s), groups “Mertvyi Piven” and “Plach Yeremiyi” (second half of 1980-s).
Modern Ukrainian music is represented by almost every trend, from folk to acid jazz, actively developing is club culture. A Ukrainian singer Ruslana, who mixed in her music Carpathian folk tunes, won the “Eurovision – 2004” award and is now giving concerts around the world.
The tendency among modern Ukrainian musicians to use folk motifs is becoming more and more vivid. One of the first to use folk tunes in rock music at the end of 1980-s was a legendary now group “VV”. “Skryabin”, Mandry”, “Gaydamaky”, Taras Chubay, Mariyka Burmaka and many other performers use national folklore as their base for creating distinctive Ukrainian music. One of the signs of returning interest in Ukrainian folk music is creation of two festivals of ethnic music – “Kraina Mriy” in Kyiv, organized by “VV” singer Oleg Skrypka and “Sheshory” in Ivano-Frankivsk region.
There are also numerous music festivals in Ukraine: “Perlyny Sezonu”, “Tavrijski Igry”, “Chaika”, “Chervona Ruta”, that give many young musicians a chance to perform on stage in front of many listeners. Such festivals “revealed” such groups as “Okean Elzy”, “Tanok na Majdani Kongo”, “Green Grey”, “Tartak”, that are successfully performing today in many foreign countries.